Friday, May 3, 2013

What's The Coach's Big Speech For This One?

Democracy is hard, we have to get a whole lot of people to agree to things to change things if we want to change things.  This often means conflicting ideologies, agendas and interests that can make making a lot of people and groups agreeing to things hard.  This is why Democracy is hard.

Unfortunately this type of wisdom often doesn't get written about, or it get's chosen to be written about in another manner by the Washington Press Corps.  In a great post about bad beltway analysis about Obama's lack of "Leadership!" on the gun control issue, Jonathan Chait pointed out that much of the commentary seems to have nothing to do with a discussion of politics in our system of government at all.  As Ron Fournier recently (and strangley) argued:
Obama needs a coach to look him in the eyes and say, “Mr. President, I’m not excusing the other team. They suck. But you need to beat them, sir. That’s your job, because if you can’t stop them, we lose. And there’s no excuse to losing to such a lousy-bleeping team.”

That’s how it works in the sports pages.
This of course is silly. As someone who heard a lot of inspiration speeches in my youth from coaches I can attest they didn't make me any better than the terrible baseball player I was.  And I guess if we want to get specific we already have a great speech that the President doesn't even need a coach for, he could just play it the Democratic cloak room before a gun control vote...and then fail to over come a filibuster because of the new 60 vote Senate.  Oh and there's that pesky GOP controlled House of Representatives as well.

This brings me to the new changes in the international food aid program that the Obama administration has recently unveiled. This isn't sexy for beltway journalists like gun control votes have been of late but it certainly matters, it's a 1.4 billion dollar program that constitutes over half of the world's food aid. The New York Times posted a good run down (titled "Proposal for Changes in Food Aid Sets Off Infighting in Congress" note the lack of sports movie references) of the proposals, and the Congressional reactions which seem like an artistic form of organized bitterness. I can't explain what's going on as well as they can, so take it away Ron Nixon!:
Administration officials say the current program is costly and inefficient, and does not get food quickly enough to the people who need it. By law, the food must be bought from American farmers and shipped on vessels flying American flags, which can sometimes take weeks, with food arriving after a crisis is over, administration officials and development experts say. 

Also, because of rising shipping costs, the amount of food the United States sends abroad has fallen, to 1.8 million cubic tons annually from 5 million cubic tons, according to figures from the development agency. 

Under the new proposal the agency, or charities working in partnership with it, would use money to buy some food locally, closer to the disaster areas. Fifty-five percent of the food would still be purchased from American farmers. 

“This new reform would give us the flexible tools we need to get food to people who need it now, not weeks later,” said Rajiv Shah, the agency’s administrator. “We would still buy from U.S. farmers.”

He added, “But this way we can help feed two to four million more people without additional costs.” 
Our main man Rajiv seems to make a good case on the policy.  So we are going to embrace these new effective ideas right?

Well no, not so much, sorry about the big quote, but Nixon get's the reality across better than I ever could:
But members of the House and Senate agriculture subcommittees are skeptical. 

During hearings last week, Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama, the chairman of the House agriculture subcommittee, said he was concerned that removing food aid from the agriculture budget would hurt American farmers. 

Representative Sam Farr of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat, also questioned the transfer, raising concerns about the subcommittee losing oversight of the program. 

“I’m not endorsing the transfer — the realignment — until there are assurances that the program will remain intact and not be raided by other foreign ops interest,” Mr. Farr said at the hearing.

Mr. Farr expressed doubts about the proposal’s chances of success. “I don’t think it will happen this year,” he said. “That’s the politics.” 

There has been a similar response from members of the Senate agriculture subcommittee. Senator Mark Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, the chairman of the subcommittee, along with Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the ranking Republican, both said that they were opposed to transferring food aid dollars out of the agriculture budget...
Budget experts say Mr. Obama’s proposal will be a tough sell in Congress, where committee members can be parochial and rarely want to give up control of programs. 

While it is common for committees to allow agencies to move money from one account to another, experts said it was rare for Congressional appropriators to move money and oversight of a program from one agency to another. 

“This is a classic jurisdictional battle among committees,” said Edward A. Brigham, a consultant and former staff member at the White House Office of Management and Budget and at the House Budget Committee. “No one wants to give up their area of control.”
Brigham points out a dynamic that few beltway commentators ever even explore: the way Congress actually works.  How Congress works, from which state gets Federal subsidies to who get's to control a committee, to how bipartisan (yeah! bipartisan!) coalitions can come together around controlling which district get's money.

This is real reporting, about how Congress and our Government actually work.  If people want to criticize Obama's lack of leadership (or more properly "Leadership!") then it would be nice if they also looked at issues like this.  They tend to tell us too much about the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency and not enough about who actually writes laws.  Oh well, if we aren't going to go over that well then Kurt Russell gave a good Coach Speech once too.

No comments:

Post a Comment